Television's Risky Relationship

Television's Risky Relationship
Posted by FoM on January 18, 2000 at 08:24:56 PT
Source: New York Times
For about two years the White House and the television industry have been engaged in a cozy little enterprise that, on the surface, seems to promise benefits for everyone. The administration's anti-drug campaign gets a boost. The television industry gets to add dollars to the bottom line. But on closer inspection, it is a deeply unhealthy arrangement that should disturb anyone who believes in the need for all media -- the entertainment industry as well as the networks -- to remain free from government meddling. 
Under the arrangement, according to an article in this week's Salon Internet magazine, television networks have been secretly submitting scripts for some of their most popular television shows to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy as a way of getting more than $22 million worth of credit for required public service advertising. Barry McCaffrey, President Clinton's drug czar, then allots advertising points for segments that convey an anti-drug message -- a scene in which a youth rejects an offer of marijuana, for example, or a passage showing a group of drugged-out teenagers looking like losers. The idea of exchanging content for advertising credits evolved from a 1997 Congressional mandate that for every dollar of anti-drug advertising purchased by the government from a network, the network was required to donate another dollar's worth of advertising time to discourage drug abuse. When ad sales were down, networks were more willing to sell the government what was, in effect, half-price advertising time. With ad sales booming, the McCaffrey content-for-dollars alternative offered a way for networks to free advertising time to be sold at normal rates. The networks and the White House deny that content was changed or creativity dampened in the process. But according to the article, examples of how segments were revised to send their message are "as subtle as a brick through a window." The public, however, has no way to assess the revisions, since the White House has stubbornly and unwisely refused to release even the list of participating programs. Whatever its impact on particular shows, exchanging content for dollars is a bad idea, as ABC-TV has acknowledged by ending the arrangement with the White House this season. In allowing government to shape or even to be consulted on content in return for financial rewards, the networks are crossing a dangerous line they should not cross. On the far side of that line lies the possibility of censorship and state-sponsored propaganda. Published: January 18, 2000Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company Related Articles:TV Head Praises U.S. Drug Policy - 1/17/200 ABC, Spelling Out Its Differences With ONDCP - 1/17/2000 Magazine Articles:White House Defends TV Drug-Ad Deal - 1/15/2000 Script Doctors - 1/13/2000 Money, How the White House Secretly Hooked TV-1/13/2000 
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